THE BOY WONDERS
The Jonas Brothers
Talk about a whirlwind year. Along with headlining two sold-out tours and releasing another platinum album, the trio tackled TV in a reality series and the Disney Channel movie Camp Rock
. Now, on the heels of their first Grammy nod, the brothers admit, "Our heads are spinning."
Robert Downey Jr.
His personal life on track, Downey, 43, reclaimed his status as one of Hollywood's most talented actors. His tour de force comedic performance in Tropic Thunder
nabbed him a Golden Globe nomination, and he scored at the box office, too: Iron Man
(he played the titular superhero) grossed over $500 million worldwide.
THE COMEBACK KID
She got off to a shaky start: By February, Spears was twice involuntarily hospitalized. But after dad Jamie took charge, Spears, 27, won back visitation rights with her sons, got How I Met Your Mother
laughs, ruled the MTV Video Awards with three wins and a bangin' new bod and ended 2008 with her chart-topping album Circus
NEW U.S. CITIZENS
Celebs who became Americans in 2008
Sworn in: October
Sworn in: Nov. 4
Sworn in: Feb. 1
Sworn in: Oct. 24
It was a year of ups and downs for the 16-year-old Hannah Montana
star. The high notes included her first solo album Breakout
debuting at No. 1, her first Golden Globe nod for the song "I Thought I Lost You," which she penned for the film Bolt
, and scoring her driver's permit. But in the spring, Cyrus came under fire for a risqué portrait in June's Vanity Fair
. Amid all the harsh criticism, Cyrus reminded the world that despite her superstar status, she's still just a kid trying to navigate the rough road of fame. "I am not perfect," she said, but "I will learn from my mistakes."
THE RECORD BREAKER
It took just about 14 minutes of finals pool time at the Beijing Olympics, but it was a lifetime in the making: At 23, the swimmer earned eight gold medals—more than any other athlete has won in a single Olympics. Before jumping back into the pool to begin training for the 2009 World Swimming Championships, Phelps brought his girlfriend home for Thanksgiving to meet his now-celebrity mom, signed a book deal and received a $1 million bonus from his Speedo endorsement. Best of all, he told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
, "I'm sleeping in. I'm putting on weight. And I'm not going to care."
THE MUSTACHE CLUB
It was a hairy year for the upper lips of these usually far more clean-shaven celebs.
George ClooneyBrad PittJude Law
The Saturday Night Live
alum was on top of the world with her April film Baby Mama
and TV hit 30 Rock
(for which she writes, executive produces, acts—and wins Emmys). Then, from the Alaskan frontier, came a nugget of comic gold: Gov. Sarah Palin, the V.P. candidate who looked a lot like the bespectacled Fey and practically wrote her own gags about Russia's proximity to her home state. Fey, 38, came back to the real 30 Rock to play Palin, returning SNL to must-watch status. But even as she mocked the Palin wink, she felt for her subject: "I would hate it that someone was imitating me on SNL
," she said. "Wouldn't you?"
THE COOLEST COWGIRL
, Swift's second album, which she wrote and co-produced, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart and had the year's best opening-week sales for a female artist. This—and a romance with a Jonas Brother!—all before her 19th birthday. That's not Swift; that's meteoric.
STILL ON TOP
CELEBRITY_LINK "Will Smith"]
The highest-paid actor in Hollywood, Smith, 40, pocketed $80 million between June 2007 and 2008, according to Forbes
. He's worth it: In Hancock
, he delivered at the box office; his performance in Seven Pounds
is earning him buzz. Perhaps the secret of his success is always setting goals. After Seven Pounds
, he says, "I had this huge epiphany of how much more I want to do!"
Some fierce words to remember
"Winner, winner, chicken dinner"
Dancing with the Stars
' Maurice Green and the movie 21
—Christian Siriano from Project Runway
THE HIPPEST HIP-HOPPER
The 26-year-old pint-size rapper had the year's bestselling album, moving over 1 million copies of Tha Carter III
in its first week. He had a string of Top 40 hits, landing a No. 1 single with "Lollipop." He even rocked the season premiere of Saturday Night Live
alongside one of his biggest fans, Michael Phelps.
LOOK WHO GRADUATED
Caps off to these high school diploma getters
JAMIE LYNN SPEARS
Earned her GED
Graduated Beverly Hills High
Home School Graduate
Earned her GED
Home School Graduate
Celebs in prison is so 2007. This year was all about stars' pops having a brush with the law. Exhibits A, B and C:
Hayden's dad was charged with domestic violence.
Nikki's dad was charged with assault after an airport fight.
Divorce war = contempt charge for Hilary's dad.
THE SAUCY AUSSIE
The swoon-worthy actor, 40, was crowned PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive and his Australia costar Nicole Kidman
confirmed that "women's jaws drop" when he enters a room. Next, the father of two will show how good he looks in a tux—he's been tapped to emcee the 2009 Academy Awards.
SEXIEST UNDEAD ALIVE
As the novel Twilight
made its way to the big screen, people wondered how Robert Pattinson
, 22, would live up to the romantic ideal of vampire Edward Cullen. Turns out, maybe too well. Pattinson, while promoting the $150 million-grossing blockbuster, said he had a weird experience in New York: "One little girl looked at me and said, 'Can you bite me?'"
THE HOCKEY MOM
As the GOP's surprise choice for Vice President, Alaska governor Palin, 44, gave John McCain's presidential bid a boost, though her shaky grasp of the issues became a liability. In 2008 Palin also became a mother to her fifth child, Trig, and—after her teenage daughter Bristol gives birth in December—she'll be a grandmother too. Now Palin is once again focusing on her duties as governor. "We're glad to have her home," says her father, Chuck Heath. "She wants to do what's right for Alaska."
THE DRAMA KING
In a TV season full of also-rans, Baker, 39, proved that if you just put your mind to it, you can create a hit. His star vehicle The Mentalist
has become the No. 1 new show of the year, garnering upward of 18 million viewers. No wonder when Baker's asked the question "Do blondes have more fun," he simply says, "We're having fun now, aren't we?"
STRANGE BUT TRUE
The most surprising revelations of 2008
JULIA CHILD WAS A SPY
U.S. archives reveal the chef did espionage work during WWII.
KNUT'S A PSYCHO
According to one of the polar bear's keepers, Knut flies into a rage if he doesn't have an audience.
KAROLINA KURKOVA HAS NO BELLY BUTTON
The Czech model has neither an innie or an outie, due to an operation she had as an infant.
MATTHEW'S PLACENTA TREE
The actor told CNN he saved son Levi's placenta to plant in an orchard.